Tests covering areas from mobile phone use to eating at the wheel showed that reaction times slowed in some cases by more than 90%.
Adjusting controls such as those seen on in-car stereos, satellite navigation units or digital air-conditioning units gave the most alarming results.
When using switches on the dash of a simulator reaction times slowed by a staggering 93% at 60mph. Overall stopping distances increased from 59.4 metres to 85.2 metres and reaction times almost doubled from 0.751 seconds to 1.447 seconds. Additional findings from the research showed that reaction times even increased by 29% when eating a packet of crisps at the wheel, with stopping distances increasing by 13%.
The tests were carried out on a driving simulator operated by the British School of Motoring (BSM). The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) wants more work to be done on driver distraction. A spokesman said: ‘We would like to see more research into the whole area of distraction. We are concerned that cars are becoming more like mobile offices.’
Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA Motoring Trust, said that even listening to the radio could be distracting. He said: ‘Some things which drivers think are not distracting are actually quite bad. An example is listening to the traffic reports on the radio. When drivers are listening for their particular motorway junction or trying to work out which road they are on, they are not concentrating on their driving.’